austin mayor's memory attic

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Karl K: Pitchfork security is job he was born to do -- Chicago Tribune

From your Chicago Tribune (emphasis added):
Pitchfork security is job he was born to do
By Jason George, Chicago Tribune reporter
July 21, 2008

In his 18 years in concert security, Karl K has pulled plenty of contraband out of people's pants, including a pocketknife, a live frog and a dead squirrel.

His quarry at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival?

Red Bull.

"People aren't supposed to bring it in, so they cram it in their bags and down their shorts," he said Friday afternoon, just moments after he asked a rep with the energy drink to stop handing out free cans near the festival's main entrance. "I don't particularly like being hit over the head with cans."

Not that such an experience would be his worst: Karl has been pelted over the years with batteries, coins and more.

That ability to spot concealed Red Bull cans and roll with the punches—sometimes literally—are just two reasons those who know Karl K will tell you concert security was the job he was born to do.

"He's my No. 1 draft pick," said Mike Daciolas, his supervisor at S3 Inc., the firm that handles security for most major Chicago-area entertainment events. "He can clear a problem just by looking at it."

And look he does. Before taking his place at the main stage for Public Enemy's performance, Karl, who abbreviates his last name, walked the grounds, his eyes in constant motion. Along the way he stopped kids from sneaking in and looked, without success, for a woman's lost wallet. He made sure a fan in a wheelchair was comfortable and asked a group of women to stop smoking some herb that smelled not of tobacco.

"I worry about everything," he acknowledges.

Growing up in suburban Burbank, Karl, 45, knew he wanted some part in the music industry after the 6th grade, when he fell in love with rock 'n' roll, motorcycles and the mullet he still sports.

"It's actually an ulta-mullet," he corrects, stroking his long ponytail.

It's that haircut, combat boots, a belt-holstered flashlight and handcuffs that make Karl look a bit like Dog the Bounty Hunter.

"I only have one tattoo, though," he says of art that stretches from his right ankle to his waist.

His "one tattoo" contains symbols for loyalty, strength and honesty —attributes Karl earnestly advocates for in life and at work. At 9 p.m. Public Enemy takes the stage, and Karl's easygoing attitude vanishes. Pacing the alley that separates the crowd from the stage, he gives directional hand signals to his staff and scans the crowd, looking for fainting fans and injured bodysurfers.

"The mosh pit is dying; it makes me sad actually," he says.

Being at almost every major concert in the Chicago area for the past 18 years, Karl gets greeted by all sorts of people. Few could tell you, though, that his preferred recreational activity is not music but relaxing at an Indiana nudist resort.

"I just love it, dude," he explains.

In fact, Karl rode his Harley Heritage Classic straight there following Friday's show. (He says he wore clothes the entire 90-mile journey.)

The concert had gone off without a hitch—no injuries and no real problems.

That's something he'll celebrate every time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Durbin on Roskam: "I think there's a lot of hope for Peter Roskam; He's a person who is thoughtful and tries to do what's right."

What do colleagues think of Roskam?
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/7/2007 12:18 AM

As expected for someone with strong views, there's few lukewarm opinions on Peter Roskam.

The conservative Republican from Wheaton was elected to Congress one year ago and already is being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as the 2008 election approaches.

Democratic Party officials launched a radio ad campaign recently criticizing Roskam for voting against a health insurance plan aimed at needy children, saying he was in "lockstep" with President Bush.

But when asked to evaluate his performance, his Democratic colleagues in the House were elusive.

One staff member put it down to the Thumper Principle, also known as "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Republicans including moderates such as U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Highland Park and Judy Biggert of Hinsdale, however, said Roskam had hit the ground running.

Kirk said Roskam's background as a state senator eased the learning curve. And while, the two voted differently on issues such as funding for stem cell research, Roskam was a valuable ally on local concerns, Kirk noted.

"I need folks to work for the home team, who care about how to fix security at O'Hare or the loss of ash trees. The great thing about Peter is that he's not lost his local connections," Kirk said.

The one lone Democrat to comment on Roskam was Rep. Danny Davis of Chicago, who recalled the difficulty of rising out of the ranks during a first term.

"I think he's done all right," Davis said. "Peter is solid and involved and engaged."

Few people know more about poverty issues in the 6th District than Mary Ellen Durbin, director of the People's Resource Center in Wheaton, which runs a variety of services for the needy.

While crediting Roskam for helping the resource center in the past, Durbin said she was disappointed in his votes on children's health care and wants him to become more of an advocate for affordable housing.

Still, "I think there's a lot of hope for Peter Roskam," Durbin said. "He's a person who is thoughtful and tries to do what's right."

Regarding the health insurance plan, Roskam said he supports the concept but is concerned the bill would steer benefits to illegal immigrants, an argument which is disputed by Democrats.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Scroogled" by Cory Doctorow

This story originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of RADAR magazine and at


Google controls your e-mail, your videos, your calendar, your searches… What if it controlled your life?
By Cory Doctorow

"Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him." —Cardinal Richelieu

"We don't know enough about you." —Google CEO Eric Schmidt

Greg landed at San Francisco International Airport at 8 p.m., but by the time he'd made it to the front of the customs line, it was after midnight. He'd emerged from first class, brown as a nut, unshaven, and loose-limbed after a month on the beach in Cabo (scuba diving three days a week, seducing French college girls the rest of the time). When he'd left the city a month before, he'd been a stoop-shouldered, potbellied wreck. Now he was a bronze god, drawing admiring glances from the stews at the front of the cabin.

Four hours later in the customs line, he'd slid from god back to man. His slight buzz had worn off, sweat ran down the crack of his ass, and his shoulders and neck were so tense his upper back felt like a tennis racket. The batteries on his iPod had long since died, leaving him with nothing to do except eavesdrop on the middle-age couple ahead of him.

"The marvels of modern technology," said the woman, shrugging at a nearby sign: Immigration—Powered by Google.

"I thought that didn't start until next month?" The man was alternately wearing and holding a large sombrero.

Googling at the border. Christ. Greg had vested out of Google six months before, cashing in his options and "taking some me time"—which turned out to be less rewarding than he'd expected. What he mostly did over the five months that followed was fix his friends' PCs, watch daytime TV, and gain 10 pounds, which he blamed on being at home instead of in the Googleplex, with its well-appointed 24-hour gym.

He should have seen it coming, of course. The U.S. government had lavished $15 billion on a program to fingerprint and photograph visitors at the border, and hadn't caught a single terrorist. Clearly, the public sector was not equipped to Do Search Right.

The DHS officer had bags under his eyes and squinted at his screen, prodding at his keyboard with sausage fingers. No wonder it was taking four hours to get out of the god damned airport.

"Evening," Greg said, handing the man his sweaty passport. The officer grunted and swiped it, then stared at his screen, tapping. A lot. He had a little bit of dried food at the corner of his mouth and his tongue crept out and licked at it.

"Want to tell me about June 1998?"

Greg looked up from his Departures. "I'm sorry?"

"You posted a message to alt.burningman on June 17, 1998, about your plan to attend a festival. You asked, 'Are shrooms really such a bad idea?'"

The interrogator in the secondary screening room was an older man, so skinny he looked like he'd been carved out of wood. His questions went a lot deeper than shrooms.

"Tell me about your hobbies. Are you into model rocketry?"


"Model rocketry."

"No," Greg said, "No, I'm not." He sensed where this was going.

The man made a note, did some clicking. "You see, I ask because I see a heavy spike in ads for rocketry supplies showing up alongside your search results and Google mail."

Greg felt a spasm in his guts. "You're looking at my searches and e-mail?" He hadn't touched a keyboard in a month, but he knew what he put into that search bar was likely more revealing than what he told his shrink.

"Sir, calm down, please. No, I'm not looking at your searches," the man said in a mocking whine. "That would be unconstitutional. We see only the ads that show up when you read your mail and do your searching. I have a brochure explaining it. I'll give it to you when we're through here."

"But the ads don't mean anything," Greg sputtered. "I get ads for Ann Coulter ring tones whenever I get e-mail from my friend in Coulter, Iowa!"

The man nodded. "I understand, sir. And that's just why I'm here talking to you. Why do you suppose model rocket ads show up so frequently?"

Greg racked his brain. "Okay, just do this. Search for 'coffee fanatics.'" He'd been very active in the group, helping them build out the site for their coffee-of-the-month subscription service. The blend they were going to launch with was called Jet Fuel. "Jet Fuel" and "Launch"—that would probably make Google barf up some model rocket ads.

They were in the home stretch when the carved man found the Halloween photos. They were buried three screens deep in the search results for "Greg Lupinski."

"It was a Gulf War–themed party," he said. "In the Castro."

"And you're dressed as...?"

"A suicide bomber," he replied sheepishly. Just saying the words made him wince.

"Come with me, Mr. Lupinski," the man said.

By the time he was released, it was past 3 a.m. His suitcases stood forlornly by the baggage carousel. He picked them up and saw they had been opened and carelessly closed. Clothes stuck out from around the edges.

When he returned home, he discovered that all of his fake pre-Columbian statues had been broken, and his brand-new white cotton Mexican shirt had an ominous boot print in the middle of it. His clothes no longer smelled of Mexico. They smelled like airport.

He wasn't going to sleep. No way. He needed to talk about this. There was only one person who would get it. Luckily, she was usually awake around this hour.

Maya had started working at Google two years after Greg had. It was she who'd convinced him to go to Mexico after he cashed out: Anywhere, she'd said, that he could reboot his existence.

Maya had two giant chocolate labs and a very, very patient girlfriend named Laurie who'd put up with anything except being dragged around Dolores Park at 6 a.m. by 350 pounds of drooling canine.

Maya reached for her Mace as Greg jogged toward her, then did a double take and threw her arms open, dropping the leashes and trapping them under her sneaker. "Where's the rest of you? Dude, you look hot!"

He hugged her back, suddenly conscious of the way he smelled after a night of invasive Googling. "Maya," he said, "what do you know about Google and the DHS?"

She stiffened as soon as he asked the question. One of the dogs began to whine. She looked around, then nodded up at the tennis courts. "Top of the light pole there; don't look," she said. "That's one of our muni WiFi access points. Wide-angle webcam. Face away from it when you talk."

In the grand scheme of things, it hadn't cost Google much to wire the city with webcams. Especially when measured against the ability to serve ads to people based on where they were sitting. Greg hadn't paid much attention when the cameras on all those access points went public—there'd been a day's worth of blogstorm while people played with the new all-seeing toy, zooming in on various prostitute cruising areas, but after a while the excitement blew over.

Feeling silly, Greg mumbled, "You're joking."

"Come with me," she said, turning away from the pole.

The dogs weren't happy about cutting their walk short, and expressed their displeasure in the kitchen as Maya made coffee.

"We brokered a compromise with the DHS," she said, reaching for the milk. "They agreed to stop fishing through our search records, and we agreed to let them see what ads got displayed for users."

Greg felt sick. "Why? Don't tell me Yahoo was doing it already..."

"No, no. Well, yes. Sure. Yahoo was doing it. But that wasn't the reason Google went along. You know, Republicans hate Google. We're overwhelmingly registered Democratic, so we're doing what we can to make peace with them before they clobber us. This isn't P.I.I."—Personally Identifying Information, the toxic smog of the information age—"It's just metadata. So it's only slightly evil."

"Why all the intrigue, then?"

Maya sighed and hugged the lab that was butting her knee with its huge head. "The spooks are like lice. They get everywhere. They show up at our meetings. It's like being in some Soviet ministry. And the security clearance—we're divided into these two camps: the cleared and the suspect. We all know who isn't cleared, but no one knows why. I'm cleared. Lucky for me, being a dyke no longer disqualifies you. No cleared person would deign to eat lunch with an unclearable."

Greg felt very tired. "So I guess I'm lucky I got out of the airport alive. I might have ended up 'disappeared' if it had gone badly, huh?"

Maya stared at him intently. He waited for an answer.


"I'm about to tell you something, but you can't ever repeat it, okay?"

"'re not in a terrorist cell, are you?

"Nothing so simple. Here's the deal: Airport DHS scrutiny is a gating function. It lets the spooks narrow down their search criteria. Once you get pulled aside for secondary at the border, you become a 'person of interest'—and they never, ever let up. They'll scan webcams for your face and gait. Read your mail. Monitor your searches."

"I thought you said the courts wouldn't let them..."

"The courts won't let them indiscriminately Google you. But after you're in the system, it becomes a selective search. All legal. And once they start Googling you, they always find something. All your data is fed into a big hopper that checks for 'suspicious patterns,' using deviation from statistical norms to nail you."

Greg felt like he was going to throw up. "How the hell did this happen? Google was a good place. 'Don't be evil,' right?" That was the corporate motto, and for Greg, it had been a huge part of why he'd taken his computer science Ph.D. from Stanford directly to Mountain View.

Maya replied with a hard-edged laugh. "Don't be evil? Come on, Greg. Our lobbying group is that same bunch of crypto-fascists that tried to Swift-Boat Kerry. We popped our evil cherry a long time ago."

They were quiet for a minute.

"It started in China," she went on, finally. "Once we moved our servers onto the mainland, they went under Chinese jurisdiction."

Greg sighed. He knew Google's reach all too well: Every time you visited a page with Google ads on it, or used Google maps or Google mail—even if you sent mail to a Gmail account—the company diligently collected your info. Recently, the site's search-optimization software had begun using the data to tailor Web searches to individual users. It proved to be a revolutionary tool for advertisers. An authoritarian government would have other purposes in mind.

"They were using us to build profiles of people," she went on. "When they had someone they wanted to arrest, they'd come to us and find a reason to bust them. There's hardly anything you can do on the Net that isn't illegal in China."

Greg shook his head. "Why did they have to put the servers in China?"

"The government said they'd block us otherwise. And Yahoo was there." They both made faces. Somewhere along the way, employees at Google had become obsessed with Yahoo, more concerned with what the competition was doing than how their own company was performing. "So we did it. But a lot of us didn't like the idea."

Maya sipped her coffee and lowered her voice. One of her dogs sniffed insistently under Greg's chair.

"Almost immediately, the Chinese asked us to start censoring search results," Maya said. "Google agreed. The company line was hilarious: 'We're not doing evil—we're giving consumers access to a better search tool! If we showed them search results they couldn't get to, that would just frustrate them. It would be a bad user experience.'"

"Now what?" Greg pushed a dog away from him. Maya looked hurt.

"Now you're a person of interest, Greg.You're Googlestalked. Now you live your life with someone constantly looking over your shoulder. You know the mission statement, right? 'Organize the World's Information.' Everything. Give it five years, we'll know how many turds were in the bowl before you flushed. Combine that with automated suspicion of anyone who matches a statistical picture of a bad guy and you're—"


"Totally." She nodded.

Maya took both labs down the hall to the bedroom. He heard a muffled argument with her girlfriend, and she came back alone.

"I can fix this," she said in an urgent whisper. "After the Chinese started rounding up people, my podmates and I made it our 20 percent project to fuck with them." (Among Google's business innovations was a rule that required every employee to devote 20 percent of his or her time to high-minded pet projects.) "We call it the Googlecleaner. It goes deep into the database and statistically normalizes you. Your searches, your Gmail histograms, your browsing patterns. All of it. Greg, I can Googleclean you. It's the only way."

"I don't want you to get into trouble."

She shook her head. "I'm already doomed. Every day since I built the damn thing has been borrowed time—now it's just a matter of waiting for someone to point out my expertise and history to the DHS and, oh, I don't know. Whatever it is they do to people like me in the war on abstract nouns."

Greg remembered the airport. The search. His shirt, the boot print in the middle of it.

"Do it," he said.

The Googlecleaner worked wonders. Greg could tell by the ads that popped up alongside his searches, ads clearly meant for someone else: Intelligent Design Facts, Online Seminary Degree, Terror Free Tomorrow, Porn Blocker Software, the Homosexual Agenda, Cheap Toby Keith Tickets. This was Maya's program at work. Clearly Google's new personalized search had him pegged as someone else entirely, a God-fearing right winger with a thing for hat acts.

Which was fine by him.

Then he clicked on his address book, and found that half of his contacts were missing. His Gmail in-box was hollowed out like a termite-ridden stump. His Orkut profile, normalized. His calendar, family photos, bookmarks: all empty. He hadn't quite realized before how much of him had migrated onto the Web and worked its way into Google's server farms—his entire online identity. Maya had scrubbed him to a high gloss; he'd become the invisible man.

Greg sleepily mashed the keys on the laptop next to his bed, bringing the screen to life. He squinted at the flashing toolbar clock: 4:13 a.m.! Christ, who was pounding on his door at this hour?

He shouted, "Coming!" in a muzzy voice and pulled on a robe and slippers. He shuffled down the hallway, turning on lights as he went. At the door, he squinted through the peephole to find Maya staring glumly back at him.

He undid the chains and dead bolt and yanked the door open. Maya rushed in past him, followed by the dogs and her girlfriend.

She was sheened in sweat, her usually combed hair clinging in clumps to her forehead. She rubbed at her eyes, which were red and lined.

"Pack a bag," she croaked hoarsely.


She took him by the shoulders. "Do it," she said.

"Where do you want to...?"

"Mexico, probably. Don't know yet. Pack, dammit." She pushed past him into his bedroom and started yanking open drawers.

"Maya," he said sharply, "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on."

She glared at him and pushed her hair away from her face. "The Googlecleaner lives. After I cleaned you, I shut it down and walked away. It was too dangerous to use anymore. But it's still set to send me e-mail confirmations whenever it runs. Someone's used it six times to scrub three very specific accounts—all of which happen to belong to members of the Senate Commerce Committee up for reelection."

"Googlers are blackwashing senators?"

"Not Googlers. This is coming from off-site. The IP block is registered in D.C. And the IPs are all used by Gmail users. Guess who the accounts belong to?"

"You spied on Gmail accounts?"

"Okay. Yes. I did look through their e-mail. Everyone does it, now and again, and for a lot worse reasons than I did. But check it out—turns out all this activity is being directed by our lobbying firm. Just doing their job, defending the company's interests."

Greg felt his pulse beating in his temples. "We should tell someone."

"It won't do any good. They know everything about us. They can see every search. Every e-mail. Every time we've been caught on the webcams. Who is in our social network...did you know if you have 15 Orkut buddies, it's statistically certain that you're no more than three steps to someone who's contributed money to a 'terrorist' cause? Remember the airport? You'll be in for a lot more of that."

"Maya," Greg said, getting his bearings. "Isn't heading to Mexico overreacting? Just quit. We can do a start-up or something. This is crazy."

"They came to see me today," she said. "Two of the political officers from DHS. They didn't leave for hours. And they asked me a lot of very heavy questions."

"About the Googlecleaner?"

"About my friends and family. My search history. My personal history."


"They were sending a message to me. They're watching every click and every search. It's time to go. Time to get out of range."

"There's a Google office in Mexico, you know."

"We've got to go," she said, firmly.

"Laurie, what do you think of this?" Greg asked.

Laurie thumped the dogs between the shoulders. "My parents left East Germany in '65. They used to tell me about the Stasi. The secret police would put everything about you in your file, if you told an unpatriotic joke, whatever. Whether they meant it or not, what Google has created is no different."

"Greg, are you coming?"

He looked at the dogs and shook his head. "I've got some pesos left over," he said. "You take them. Be careful, okay?"

Maya looked like she was going to slug him. Softening, she gave him a ferocious hug.

"Be careful, yourself," she whispered in his ear.

They came for him a week later. At home, in the middle of the night, just as he'd imagined they would.

Two men arrived on his doorstep shortly after 2 a.m. One stood silently by the door. The other was a smiler, short and rumpled, in a sport coat with a stain on one lapel and a American flag on the other. "Greg Lupinski, we have reason to believe you're in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act," he said, by way of introduction. "Specifically, exceeding authorized access, and by means of such conduct having obtained information. Ten years for a first offense. Turns out that what you and your friend did to your Google records qualifies as a felony. And oh, what will come out in the trial...all the stuff you whitewashed out of your profile, for starters."

Greg had played this scene in his head for a week. He'd planned all kinds of brave things to say. It had given him something to do while he waited to hear from Maya. She never called.

"I'd like to get in touch with a lawyer," is all he mustered.

"You can do that," the small man said. "But maybe we can come to a better arrangement."

Greg found his voice. "I'd like to see your badge," he stammered.

The man's basset-hound face lit up as he let out a bemused chuckle. "Buddy, I'm not a cop," he replied. "I'm a consultant. Google hired me—my firm represents their interests in Washington—to build relationships. Of course, we wouldn't get the police involved without talking to you first. You're part of the family. Actually, there's an offer I'd like to make."

Greg turned to the coffeemaker, dumped the old filter.

"I'll go to the press," he said.

The man nodded as if thinking it over. "Well, sure. You could walk into the Chronicle's office in the morning and spill everything. They'd look for a confirming source. They won't find one. And when they try searching for it, we'll find them. So, buddy, why don't you hear me out, okay? I'm in the win-win business. I'm very good at it." He paused. "By the way, those are excellent beans, but you want to give them a little rinse first? Takes some of the bitterness out and brings up the oils. Here, pass me a colander?"

Greg watched as the man silently took off his jacket and hung it over a kitchen chair, then undid his cuffs and carefully rolled them up, slipping a cheap digital watch into his pocket. He poured the beans out of the grinder and into Greg's colander, and rinsed them in the sink.

He was a little pudgy and very pale, with the social grace of an electrical engineer. He seemed like a real Googler, actually, obsessed with the minutiae. He knew his way around a coffee grinder, too.

"We're drafting a team for Building 49..."

"There is no Building 49," Greg said automatically.

"Of course," the guy said, flashing a tight smile. "There's no Building 49. But we're putting together a team to revamp the Googlecleaner. Maya's code wasn't very efficient, you know. It's full of bugs. We need an upgrade. You'd be the right guy, and it wouldn't matter what you knew if you were back inside."

"Unbelievable," Greg said, laughing. "If you think I'm going to help you smear political candidates in exchange for favors, you're crazier than I thought."

"Greg," the man said, "we're not smearing anyone. We're just going to clean things up a bit. For some select people. You know what I mean? Everyone's Google profile is a little scary under close inspection. Close inspection is the order of the day in politics. Standing for office is like a public colonoscopy." He loaded the cafetière and depressed the plunger, his face screwed up in solemn concentration. Greg retrieved two coffee cups—Google mugs, of course—and passed them over.

"We're going to do for our friends what Maya did for you. Just a little cleanup. All we want to do is preserve their privacy. That's all."

Greg sipped his coffee. "What happens to the candidates you don't clean?"

"Yeah," the guy said, flashing Greg a weak grin. "Yeah, you're right. It'll be kind of tough for them." He searched the inside pocket of his jacket and produced several folded sheets of paper.

He smoothed out the pages and put them on the table. "Here's one of the good guys who needs our help." It was a printout of a search history belonging to a candidate whose campaign Greg had contributed to in the past three elections.

"Fella gets back to his hotel room after a brutal day of campaigning door to door, fires up his laptop, and types 'hot asses' into his search bar. Big deal, right? The way we see it, for that to disqualify a good man from continuing to serve his country is just un-American."

Greg nodded slowly.

"So you'll help the guy out?" the man asked.


"Good. There's one more thing. We need you to help us find Maya. She didn't understand our goals at all, and now she seems to have flown the coop. Once she hears us out, I have no doubt she'll come around."

He glanced at the candidate's search history.

"I guess she might," Greg replied.

The new Congress took 11 working days to pass the Securing and Enumerating America's Communications and Hypertext Act, which authorized the DHS and NSA to outsource up to 80 percent of intelligence and analysis work to private contractors. Theoretically, the contracts were open to competitive bidding, but within the secure confines of Google's Building 49, there was no question of who would win. If Google had spent $15 billion on a program to catch bad guys at the border, you can bet they would have caught them—governments just aren't equipped to Do Search Right.

The next morning Greg scrutinized himself carefully as he shaved (the security minders didn't like hacker stubble and weren't shy about telling him so), realizing that today was his first day as a de facto intelligence agent for the U.S. government. How bad would it be? Wasn't it better to have Google doing this stuff than some ham-fisted DHS desk jockey?

By the time he parked at the Googleplex, among the hybrid cars and bulging bike racks, he had convinced himself. He was mulling over which organic smoothie to order at the canteen when his key card failed to open the door to Building 49. The red LED flashed dumbly every time he swiped his card. Any other building, and there'd be someone to tailgate on, people trickling in and out all day. But the Googlers in 49 only emerged for meals, and sometimes not even that.

Swipe, swipe, swipe. Suddenly he heard a voice at his side.

"Greg, can I see you, please?"

The rumpled man put an arm around his shoulders, and Greg smelled his citrusy aftershave. It smelled like what his divemaster in Baja had worn when they went out to the bars in the evening. Greg couldn't remember his name. Juan Carlos? Juan Luis?

The man's arm around his shoulders was firm, steering him away from the door, out onto the immaculate lawn, past the herb garden outside the kitchen. "We're giving you a couple of days off," he said.

Greg felt a sudden stab of anxiety. "Why?" Had he done something wrong? Was he going to jail?

"It's Maya." The man turned him around, met his eyes with his bottomless gaze. "She killed herself. In Guatemala. I'm sorry, Greg."

Greg seemed to hurtle away, to a place miles above, a Google Earth view of the Googleplex, where he looked down on himself and the rumpled man as a pair of dots, two pixels, tiny and insignificant. He willed himself to tear at his hair, to drop to his knees and weep.

From a long way away, he heard himself say, "I don't need any time off. I'm okay."

From a long way away, he heard the rumpled man insist.

The argument persisted for a long time, and then the two pixels moved into Building 49, and the door swung shut behind them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

American Airlines "American Way" interview with Jeff Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy’s Sweet Home

Chicago has a rich musical past, so it only makes sense that Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, the owner of perhaps the richest musical presence around, makes his home there.

By Bob Mehr

“I think this might be the toughest interview I’ve done,” Jeff Tweedy offers with a chuckle.

It’s a somewhat surprising comment, coming from the well-traveled Wilco front man. In addition to being the subject of a major biography (Greg Kot’s Wilco: Learning How to Die) and of a feature-length documentary (Sam Jones’s I Am Trying to Break Your Heart), Tweedy has been the focus of countless articles and press inquiries over the years.

That kind of critical support has helped grow the 39-year-old singer-songwriter’s original small cult of fans (from his days in the alt-country combo Uncle Tupelo) into a legion of diehard Wilco-heads, even as Tweedy has continually challenged both his audience and himself musically. A somewhat reluctant rock star, he’s managed to toe the fine line between underground respect and mainstream success and has become one of contemporary music’s most compelling and revered figures in the process.

A native of tiny Belleville, Illinois, Tweedy has called Chicago home for the past 13 years. He arrived in the early 1990s, ostensibly to be with his girlfriend, who is now his wife, Sue Miller. She was a co-owner of the much-beloved and now long-defunct rock club Lounge Ax. Longtime North Side residents, the Tweedys have two sons, Sam, seven, and Spencer, 11; the latter, already following in his father’s footsteps, is a member of kiddie rock band the Blisters.
Tweedy’s group, Wilco, meanwhile, has just released its sixth studio album, Sky Blue Sky (see page 48). Recorded in the band’s loft studio rehearsal space, the disc finds Tweedy once again exploring a stylistic shift — the album luxuriates in the sweet sounds of ’70s FM radio and has a warm, rootsy bonhomie.

A proud and passionate Chicagoan, Tweedy offers his insights on the city’s music scene, his favorite family dining spots, the best places to pick up a guitar, and where to see a show. And he also tells why he doesn’t do much record shopping anymore.

Being a native Midwesterner, did you spend a lot of time in Chicago when you were a child?
Well, I grew up about five hours south of Chicago, near St. Louis, so I didn’t really come here as a kid — it would’ve been like going to Mars. [Laughs]

The first time I really came to Chicago was with Uncle Tupelo in the late ’80s. We started playing at a club called the Cubby Bear and then at the Lounge Ax, which is where I met my wife, Sue. We were dating, but it was hard to consider ourselves a real couple unless we lived in the same city. So when Uncle Tupelo broke up and Wilco started, that kind of seemed a good time to make a change, so I moved to Chicago.

Did anything surprise you about the city when you arrived, in terms of coming from a smaller town like Belleville?
By the time I moved to Chicago, I’d certainly had my eyes opened to the rest of the world, just from touring so much. But the thing that struck me the most when I spent time in Chicago was the sense of community among musicians here. The rock community was really vibrant, and the fact that there were so many people happily coexisting with each other surprised me, I guess. I’ve never really been much of a scene guy, and I don’t think I am now, but it was nice to see that there was a real thriving element to the way people were living with each other and making music.

It’s a place that has always had a tremendous legacy as a musical city.
Chicago has an unbelievable history through the years. Things that stick out in my mind immediately are Howlin’ Wolf and Hubert Sumlin, Mavis Staples — people like that. All these artists who made their home here form a huge part of my record collection.

It continues to be a great place for musicians — and not just for rock or pop musicians. There’s an unbelievably vibrant improvised music scene here centered on clubs like the Empty Bottle. Chicago is really the center of the universe for that kind of music. I don’t even think any cities in Europe can compare to what we have here.

Do you think that being in Chicago — as opposed to being in New York or in Los Angeles — has been helpful to your music and career?
Chicago is pretty great for a lot of reasons, in my mind. If you’re in a band, there are tons of places to play. Compared with other major cities, you can live reasonably well without a lot of money. And there are a lot of people who are very good at recording — there are great studios all over town, like Electrical Audio and Soma [Electronic Music Studios].

Even for us, having our own place to record at, it’s very helpful to have someone just a couple of blocks away who can lend you a reel of tape or come over and help troubleshoot if your machines aren’t working. There’s a great support system in that way. I feel very comfortable here, very taken care of and nurtured as a musician. It makes it an easy environment to be creative in.

You’ve played at pretty much every major venue in town — from small clubs to big theaters. Do any of them stand out to you, whether you performed there or were an audience member?
The Auditorium Theatre, where we’ve played a bunch of times now, is such an unbelievably gorgeous building to get to see a show in. I would highly recommend that to anyone if they have a chance to see something they like there. It’s a pretty historic concert venue for Chicago as well. The Who played there, as did Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Frank Zappa played there a lot — I think he played every Halloween for a number of years. When it first opened [in 1889], I think it was one of the tallest buildings in Chicago. [Architect] Louis Sullivan built his offices in a sky cottage above the dome of the building to prove that it could withstand being that high. I guess people doubted him at the time. So there’s a real cool history that goes with the place.

Another favorite, as far as a smaller venue goes, is the Hideout. It’s an old bar and club in this kind of industrial part of town. It’s a great, friendly place for people to see music in a more intimate room.

In the past few years, Chicago seems to have exploded as a place for summer music festivals.
I think Chicago is the best city in the world for festivals now. All summer long, there is a constant stream of really exciting music events happening here. You have the Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza, and last year, there was the Touch and Go festival. Wilco’s not actually doing Lollapalooza this year, but my son’s band, the Blisters, is playing two days of the festival, so hopefully I’ll be there just to roadie.

That’s not even mentioning all the local neighborhood street festivals in the summer. I don’t have any idea why it happens so much here culturally, but it is a fact of life in Chicago that every weekend someone’s going to think of some excuse to blockade the streets, serve beer, and have bands play. [Laughs]

You play a really nice selection of guitars onstage. Do you have a particular place where you find instruments?
One place I’ve shopped at a lot over the years is Midwest Buy and Sell, which is a pawnshop that specializes in musical equipment. I think their philosophy is to stock really great instruments, but ones that aren’t “perfect” in a collector’s sense. They want to put them in the hands of people who are going to play them and use them.

What about record stores?
Well, unfortunately, I don’t find music shopping environments to be very comfortable. I do way more shopping online than going to record stores. If I’m on the road and it’s a day off, I can do it sometimes. In general, it can be a little tough here.

I suppose you at a record shop in Chicago must be a little like the pope in Rome.
I wouldn’t go that far. [Laughs] Even if it’s only one time in 10, it’s those few encounters I’ve had where people have wanted to talk to me — and they’re nice people — but it changes the experience. At one point in time, going to a record store was like going to church for me. So it’s something that I’ve always associated with a certain amount of introspection and solitude, ironically.

Are you less recognized in bookstores?
I think I am. Well, people tend to have their heads down a little bit more in bookstores. [Laughs]

Are there any that stand out for you?
I love going to Quimby’s Bookstore in Wicker Park. I can’t ever get enough stuff to read. So I go in there, maybe once a month, and spend way too much money. I don’t buy super-esoteric stuff like obscure xeroxed fanzines, but I do like thumbing through them, and there’s definitely more of a chance of finding something like that at Quimby’s than anywhere else. Plus, the other stuff they keep in stock is much more to my taste.

Let’s talk a little bit about food. In Chicago, you have to start with hot dogs. Where do you go for yours?
Easy: That’d be Superdawg. If there’s anybody visiting from out of town, we end by making a trip there. It’s been around forever; it’s still a carhop. You pull up, and they bring these delicious, massive hot dogs right to your window.

And where do your loyalties lie on the pizza question — deep dish or thin crust?
Thick. I think that Lou Malnati’s is the best pizza in the world, by far. I just love the stuff. I get it plain, just cheese, and they don’t cut it. You cut it when you get home, and the crust stays crisp that way. I don’t think there’s pizza anywhere else like it.

You have a family, so I know that’s always a consideration when you’re going out to eat.
That’s true. There are a few places we like to go. For breakfast, it’d be Lou Mitchell’s. That’s a stop you have to make. It’s an old-style diner. When you come in in the morning, they give the kids and the wife a box of Milk Duds, and the husband gets the check — that’s what they tell you when you walk in. It’s one of those places where they’re kind of rude to the dad but nice to everybody else. [Laughs] They bring you a prune before you eat your main course, and they serve these amazing egg dishes that come in burning-hot skillets. Everything is really delicious there.

There’s also Feed, a great home-cooking, soul-food place that’s pretty kid friendly. They do great barbecue, chicken, collard greens — it’s Southern-style cooking. It’s a great environment, a very comfortable and fun place to go for the family.

In general, we try to support some of the places in our neighborhood, Old Irving Park, and nearby. There’s a really good Middle Eastern place called Shiraz. And I think Tank in Lincoln Square has the best sushi in town.

Everyone assumes musicians aren’t outdoor types, but you try and take advantage of the parks in Chicago, right?
Yeah, I run all the time on the trails by Lake Michigan. The waterfront in Chicago is just another aspect that makes the city so special. To have such a beautiful waterfront in a Midwestern city is a strange but amazing thing.

The parks in Chicago are great, and not just for the physical beauty but because of all the stuff you can do. If you look at what the Chicago Park District offers in terms of classes, almost anything you can think of or want to try and do, they have.

Also, in the summer, a lot of the parks here do movie nights, when they’ll show films on big screens outdoors. So you go hang out with your kids and your neighbors on the grass. I just think that stuff is really lovely.

What about musical activities for the family?
The Old Town School of Folk Music, for sure. It’s a pretty amazing thing to have in a community; anyone — not just kids — can go learn how to frail a banjo or to do African dancing or whatever. They have music camps in the summer, as well, and our kids have gone to those.

Also, a place like the Hideout, which I mentioned — they do a lot of matinee shows for kids. Jon Langford and Sally Timms of the Mekons have put on plays for kids there. There’s a really good group of people in Chicago doing shows for kids that aren’t dumbed down, which I really appreciate. I like the fact it’s not just Barney on Ice. [Laughs]

You’re a pretty good salesman for the city.
Yeah, I’m feeling like I should get a job as spokesman for the Chicago tourism department. But, you know, Chicago has a really strong civic spirit; it’s really kind of cool. I never knew anything like that growing up, even in a small town. That’s one of the reasons why I love it here.

He Said…
Jeff Tweedy’s essential Chicago spots


, Southern, inexpensive to moderate, (773) 489-4600
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, Italian/pizza, moderate, multiple locations,
Lou Mitchell’s, diner, inexpensive, (312) 939-3111,
Shiraz Restaurant, Middle Eastern, moderate, (773) 777-7275,
Superdawg, hot dogs/burgers, inexpensive, (773) 763-0660,
Tank, sushi, Japanese, moderate to expensive, (773) 769-2600,


Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
, (312) 922-2110,
Empty Bottle, (773) 276-3600, www.empty
Hideout, (773) 227-4433,


Midwest Buy and Sell
, (773) 545-2020,
Quimby’s Bookstore, (773) 342-0910,


Chicago Park District
, (312) 742-7529,
Lollapalooza, (888) 512-7469,
Old Town School of Folk Music, (773) 728-6000,
Pitchfork Music Festival, (866) 468-3401,


Electrical Audio
, (773) 539-2555,
Soma Electronic Music Studios, (773) 342-9964,

We Said…

Our essential spots in Chicago


Days Inn Lincoln Park — North, inexpensive, (773) 525-7010, We don’t often recommend specific locations of major chains, but this budget-friendly Days Inn branch is just too conveniently located to pass up. Smack in the middle of Lincoln Park, it’s within walking distance of great restaurants, Wrigley Field, the zoo, and more. Plus, guests get free passes to the Bally’s health club next door.


Spacca Napoli Pizzeria, moderate, (773) 878-2420, Jonathan Goldsmith, a former social worker and real estate developer, is the artist behind the apron at this increasingly popular pizzeria. His authentic Neapolitan pies are cooked in a 13,000-pound oven that he carted home from Naples.


Green Dolphin Street, (773) 395-0066, The upscale eats at this pleasant supper club on the banks of the Chicago River are noteworthy, but we go specifically for the jazz jams by red-hot artists like Lynn Jordan and Reuben Wilson.
Schaller’s Pump, (773) 376-6332. This popular pub is not only a hangout for high-powered politicos with offices nearby — its adjacency to U.S. Cellular Field makes it a stomping ground for rabid White Sox fans. Talk about strange bedfellows.


Kayak Chicago, (630) 336-7245, www.kayak A lot of nature lovers get a feel for the city by jogging or walking around the 18-mile lakefront path, but another way to go is to rent a sea or surf kayak and paddle your way past the stunning sights and scenery.

Sky Blue Sky

Change, it seems, has been the one consistent component in the continuing adventure of Wilco. Following the recording of the band’s last studio album, 2004’s A Ghost Is Born, front man Jeff Tweedy went through a major personal renewal, kicking pills and panic attacks, while the group endured another lineup shift, adding guitarist Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone. Since then, the group has toured heavily and released a live album, and Tweedy has put out a solo acoustic DVD. Many expected that the new Wilco effort would further explore the artier direction of Ghost — perhaps owing to Cline’s impressive avant-garde background — but the record is actually something of a stylistic left turn. It’d be easy to characterize it as a throwback to the sound of early roots-oriented Wilco platters like A.M. and Being There, but the disc is actually closer in spirit to the more recent work of Tweedy’s side band, Loose Fur. Milking the sweet sounds of ’70s FM pop — everything from the blues-tinged balladry of Badfinger to the knowing jazzy grooves of Steely Dan — Sky Blue Sky is an inviting, almost-soothing sonic reprieve from the fractured, frazzled music and lyrics of Ghost. Having fashioned an album of subtle, understated beauty, Tweedy is sure to be castigated by a certain segment of fans and critics for abandoning the vaulting musical ambition of his last few releases. With the exception of one or two tracks, this is a fairly straight set of singer-songwriter folk tunes that manages to incorporate influences as disparate as Miles Davis, Harry Nilsson, midperiod Pink Floyd, and Abbey Road–era Beatles. Lyrically, Tweedy sharpens his recent crypto-poetic word exercises into linear narratives that are more personal in nature — and more potent for their introspection. Frequently soulful, occasionally inspired, and always enjoyable, Sky Blue Sky isn’t a major musical statement, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile a listen. — B.M.

Bob Mehr is the music critic at the Commercial Appeal in Memphis. He’s also a former critic for the Reader, in Chicago, where he used to live down the block from Jeff Tweedy.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Juxtapoz: Art thief Todd Goldman "admits copying"
Dave Kelly/Todd Goldman Update
Tuesday, 17 April 2007
Some updates on our Todd Goldman story from last week:

Mike Tyndall set up a page of examples of art used by Todd Goldman and David & Goliath, his t-shirt & accessory company, which has been copied from other artists. The images to the left are a side-by-side comparison gleaned from Tyndall's post of "Todd's" work next to their original counterparts. He also posts the press release issued by Todd Goldman's publicist two days after our editorial.

Todd Goldman admits copying a drawing that was submitted to him without checking who created it. Dave Kelly, the artist whose work Todd Goldman used that generated the controversy is offered payment or the choice to donate the proceeds from the sale of work bearing his art to charity.

More posts, updates, and comments on

Wired: Art Thief Todd Goldman is an "extensive" and "accomplished plagiarist"

Dave vs. Goliath: Shameless Art Thievery, Ahoy

Keenspotbox Once upon a time, I was strolling with two people down at the Grove shopping complex in Los Angeles. We passed a gallery with giant windows, a gallery packed to the gills with the most insipid, offensively dull paintings we had ever seen. We stood in awe that this person had conned someone into giving them an entire retail space to soil. There were paintings of lamps that looked as if they had been done by "getting old ain't so bad" greeting card illustrators. Mr. Bill-like cartoon faces, with no perceivable expression or appeal, stared sightlessly off white canvas. Seemingly random depictions of household objects bore zany witticisms scrawled atop.

"Jesus wept," someone said, "this shit is TERRIBLE."

Instantly, he was upon us. The artist himself, lurking at a nearby cafe table and supervising the reactions of the gallery's passerby, leapt to his feet and verbally laid into us. Sputtering and red, he demanded to know what we had said about him, if we knew who we were dealing with, and who the hell we thought we were. We pointed and laughed at the poor crazy man who couldn't draw, and went to a movie.

I have just found out that the shouting hack was none other than Todd "Goliath" Goldman, renowned "artist" and accomplished plagiarist. He's ripped off designs from sources as far ranging as ancient Windows animated cursors, Threadless t-shirt company, spooky comics scribbler Roman Dirge, and most blatantly, internet cartooning legend Dave "Shmorky" Kelly. As the panel at right illustrates, one of Todd Goldman's recent paintings is a near-exact trace of a panel from Kelly's "Purple Pussy" webcomic.

Todd Goldman's publicist has released that his client has vowed to cease any and all marketing of the stolen design, and to forward the proceeds already collected either to Kelly or the charity of his choice. However, Todd Goldman's other plagiarism is extensive, and unredressed.

Now that he's been called on his bullshit, and the Internet vs. Todd Goldman onslaught has begun in earnest, the man has retreated to slander, hacking, and douchebaggery to make his point:

The girl who originally reported the theft of Shmorky's artwork also had her MySpace hacked. Some of the MySpace pages were replaced with an image saying TODD WAS HERE. (Note that the image is hosted on Todd Goldman's website, indicating it is either Todd Goldman or an employee with access to his webserver)

This is one example among many. What can be done about it, besides spurting reams of textualized nerd rage into every venue that will tolerate it? Shmorky's got the original design up for sale on a shirt. And one can always Digg, of course. Otherwise, I encourage the perusal of the following links, so that you may familiarize yourself with his myriad offenses and be able to hold forth on the subject at parties, whist drives, and strawberry teas. Do it for ART.

Holy cow, Todd (Goliath) Goldman ripped me off! [Something Awful Forums]
Todd Goldman: Art Thief [Mike Tyndall]
Todd Goliath Goldman, Art Thief [Digg]

Posted by Eliza Gauger 11:09:00 AM

Publisher's Weekly: Art Thief Todd Goldman is "an obvious rip-off artist."

Todd Goldman

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. We’re beginning to be pretty fascinated by this Todd Goldman guy, because he’s such an obvious rip-off artist, but has managed to make a pretty good living at taking other people’s ideas and gussying them up a a bit. For instance check out this blurb from Animation Art Gallery:

New, hip, modern, and cool are some of the words used to describe Todd Goldman’s artwork. The playful and child-like nature of his characters pair strikingly with the very adult humor of the words which tell a bitingly whitty truth about life. One can not help but laugh out loud. His art instigates an emotional shock response which makes it all the more enjoyable. His art has been rising in popularity and even Jessica Simpson purchased her very own copy of “You Say I’m a Bitch Like It’s a Bad Thing.”

New, hip, modern and cool to the tune of $90 million in 2004, the Wall Street Journal claims. Although he’s widely portrayed as someone from the fine art world, as near as we can tell from Googling, the galleries he’s in are those kind of “chain” galleries you find in Las Vegas casinos and malls…the ones with the Erte prints and paintings of gangsters and so on. Middlebrow, but very profitable in other words.

Somewhere along the way — and sadly we didn’t bookmark it, and now can’t find it in all the links we’ve looked at — the victim, “Schmorky”, as he is known, said (and we paraphrase) “I never really wanted to make money licensing my work.”

Isn’t that the tragic dichotomy here, and really every where that IP is exploited. The Kellys of the world create, quietly and unencumbered by the shameful desire to actually make a living at what they do best.

The Goldmans of the world have the gene the Kellys are missing, with a keen eye for the marketable, and the charisma and salesmanship to convince everyone that they are the auteur, the ones with the vision. Let’s face it, it would have been a lot harder for Todd Goldman to set up a legit LICENSING company that licensed the work of all these talented but sometimes eccentric creators. Ripping them off was easier for everyone.

We sincerely hope that Todd Goldman gets whats coming to him because of this — if that letter slandering Kelly is really from him, he’s an even lower scumbag than most ripoff artists of his kind. But it won’t stop more people like him from trying to get away with this kind of thing. The internet is making it a lot harder, however, and that’s one small blessing in the age of the homage, tribute and digital download.

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